April 4, 2006

Admin increases campus childcare opportunities

University officials recently announced a new $1 million initiative that will create about 40 additional openings in licensed childcare centers for the infants and toddlers of students, faculty, and staff.

Officials plan to disperse the funding among licensed centers in Hyde Park, Grant Boulevard, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn.

In addition to reducing the need for organized care targeting children two years of age or younger, the University views the initiative as an act of community outreach, said Hank Webber, vice president of Community and Government Affairs, in a press release.

“This initiative provides a wonderful opportunity to solve an internal challenge, while at the same time providing resources for the community,” Webber said in the release. “This grant program will facilitate center expansion, create jobs and provide childcare opportunities that might otherwise not exist. It is a great win-win for the University and our neighbors.”

The University distributed Requests for Proposals to various community childcare centers last month, and a selection committee will award grants in mid-May. The selection committee is composed of University faculty and staff, U of C Hospitals staff, early childhood education professionals, and representatives from the Illinois Facilities Fund, a non-profit group that is managing the grant application process.

“In exchange for the grants, providers will reserve a portion of new slots for University and Hospitals employees,” said Ingrid Gould, assistant vice president and associate provost in the Office of the President. “Another portion of newly added slots will be open to anyone in the community.”

Much of the grant money will go toward facility and staffing improvements, and so parents affiliated with the University will still have to pay to enroll their children.

“Child care costs will vary based on the provider,” said Michael Tatelbame, special assistant to the vice president and chief human resources officer at the Hospitals.

Allocating funds to several different childcare centers will also provide parents with more options, Tatelbame said.

“The plan to fund various sites will allow our employees to have choices in terms of program emphasis and facility locations,” he said. “If this initiative is successful, I would anticipate it will be enhanced and expanded.”

The allocation is intended to last over the next three years. Tatelbame said the Hospitals would be providing $400,000 toward the $1 million, with the University supplying the remainder.

While University officials expect 40 new openings for infants and toddlers to become available over the next two years, they do not expect the initiative to meet the needs of all parents.

“We believe demand will still exceed supply, but we hope this pilot program will be a successful first step in enhancing child care availability in the community,” Gould said.

Discontent with early childcare offerings surfaced in 2002, when a University study found that parents were not satisfied with community programs directed at infants and young toddlers.

After the study, the University consulted with experts about how to improve early childcare offerings, according to Gould.

“Numerous options were explored over the past couple of years,” she said. “With the help of a faculty committee with expertise in child care and child development, the current program was designed and accepted by the President of University of Chicago and University of Chicago Hospitals.”

Nick Dempsey, a sociology department graduate student and a recent father, said the University should continue to investigate ways to assist graduate students with children.

“The majority of graduate students in sociology have a kid by the time they’re gone,” he said.

Dempsey and his wife, Angela, have not yet enrolled their daughter in a childcare program. Instead, they are attempting to balance his academic work and her part-time job with the obligations of parenthood.

“I watch a couple of mornings a week, Angela watches a couple of days a week, and we cobble together different resources,” Dempsey said.

Other student-parents serve as one of those resources, assisting with the task of raising children in academia.

“Graduate students have been doing an ad hoc playgroup that’s not really childcare per se, but it provides a few hours a week for the kids to hang out and socialize while parents can run errands,” Dempsey said.